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Ball Don't Lie

Joakim Noah, responding to recent events, will not be pantomiming gunplay in celebration of a made jump shot

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Noah exults on Tuesday evening (Getty Images)

Last Friday’s tragic grade school shooting in Newtown, Conn., affected anyone who suffered through the detailing of events in a significant way; whether it meant questioning the preponderance of firearms in American society, how to handle and treat potential mental illness, or merely clinging a little tighter to your child’s hand before they skip off to the bus stop in the morning. Judging various personal reactions to the tragedy won’t do much for anyone, so harshly calling into question Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah’s admission that he won’t be pantomiming an old-timey six-shooter routine after hitting a jump shot isn’t really in anyone’s best interests.

Noah, shaken up as we all were, decided to drop his “air guns” following the incident in games played on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. Following Tuesday’s Bulls win over Boston, he for the first time discussed at length why he won’t be pretending to act a 19th century Western hero after nailing a perimeter jump shot. From Tuesday night’s media scrum, as detailed by NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner:

“You can’t joke around with things like that,” Noah said after the game. “Too many people are dying because of guns. We have a problem here with guns. So just trying to be a little bit compassionate about what’s going on.”

The gesture began in practice back in 2010-11, Noah explained, and eventually turned into a habit. “I hit a jump shot in Keith Bogans‘ face and I started doing the guns and kept doing it,” he said. “It was kind of like a funny, comical thing. But I guess we’re in a situation right now where it’s not funny.”

Not to pile on, but it wasn’t really ever all that funny. I don’t hesitate for a second before pointing out that Joakim Noah is my favorite NBA player, and currently the best player on my hometown team, but the last thing I wanted to be reminded of after he stuck another 17-footer was gunplay; however cartoonish the reminder. Then again, after a series of made baskets in Chicago’s win on Tuesday, Joakim responded with a wiggling style of hand gesture that did remind of jazz hands; and it isn’t as if I enjoy being reminded about the work of Bob Fosse either.

On an aesthetics front, it’s also important to point out that Joakim pulled this nearly every time he hit a jumper or even showcased good touch around the hoop. Considering his always-improving offensive game, this meant the performance turned habitual, instead of a once in a while nuance. Regardless of my uneasiness with pantomimed gunplay, it was a little annoying.

And even before Friday, mindful of his city’s considerable issues with gun violence, it was a little out of place. Way out of place, actually. Luckily, Joakim knows what’s up. And hopefully this mini-story of his won’t get in the way of us discussing what could be an All-Star season for the Chicago center.

As we discussed earlier in December, Noah is in the best shape of his career and playing an astounding (for a center, or any NBA athlete) 40.2 minutes per game. His 14-10 Bulls are capably circling the wagons with Derrick Rose on the shelf after tearing his ACL last April, and Noah is the biggest reason why the Bulls are keeping their head above water.

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Joakim Noah and Rajon Rondo try to establish low post position (Getty Images)

The big man is averaging 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds with a combined 3.7 blocks/steals a contest, while essentially serving as the team’s top facilitator in a role that was nearly in place even with Rose around. In 10 more minutes per game Noah has nearly doubled his assists per game average from 2011-12 – from 2.5 a night to 4.5 following Tuesday’s 10-assist night against Boston. Amongst centers that play significant minutes, he trails only Boris Diaw in assist rate – the percentage of possessions he uses up that end in assists for Joakim. Strong work, considering that his Bulls team isn’t exactly rife with perimeter scorers and interior finishers.

Or, “shooters.” It’s an appropriate term that feels unfortunate and out of place as we try to wrap our heads around the biggest stateside school tragedy in nearly a century, a term we’re still uneasy with even if it does absolutely no harm to type out. Technically, Joakim’s post-score celebrations did just as little harm, but he’s adapting and coping in his own way. This stuff is serious, and pantomimed versions of gunplay are tacky at best and disrespectful at worst regardless of context.

Good on Joakim for discovering as much.

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